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Hitwise: Google & Yahoo Make Tiny Gains In July 2006

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Today I look at figures from Hitwise, as part of my series on search engine rating figures that have recently been released and how to analyze them. For those just tuning in, on Monday, I covered comScore stats showing a Google decline in July 2006. On Tuesday, I talked about NetRatings also showing a decline, but a smaller one than comScore. The main point in both of those articles was to stress the need to look at data over a longer period of time than month-to-month and to examine figures from multiple services.

Unlike comScore and NetRatings, Hitwise has only been publicly releasing "share of search" figures since March 2006. Share of search means that you look at all the searches that happen on the web, in a particular country, within a particular vertical space or whatever. Then you calculate what percentage of those shares each search engine handles.

Having share of search figures is a real relief compared to the bad old days of counting unique visitors or visits or page views from across an entire site. This past article explains more about that.

Now Hitwise is doing what comScore and NetRatings have been doing. However, where the underlying data comes from is different. The other companies watch what surfers are doing by having a group that they monitor through meters, systems on your computer to seeing where you go and what you do. Hitwise instead analyzes data from ISPs that it partners with. It sees what groups of people are doing through the ISP data it obtains.

While the exact data gathering method varies, the idea is generally the same. All three companies are monitoring groups of real surfers, to make estimates about what the entire audience of web surfers are doing.

What's Hitwise got to say about search activity last month? Here's the share of searches in the United States that each search engine is estimated to have handled:

Search Engine

Domain

6/06

7/06

Change

Google

www.google.com

59.8%

60.2%

0.5%

Yahoo

search.yahoo.com

22.3%

22.5%

0.3%

MSN

search.msn.com

12.1%

11.8%

-0.3%

Ask

www.ask.com

3.6%

3.3%

-0.3%

AOL

search.aol.com

1.05%

1.01%

-0.04%

For The 4 Week Period Ending:

7/1/06

7/29/06

My freshly updated page, Hitwise Search Engine Ratings, gives you stats going further back in time, along with more explanations about what the domains might or might not include. There may be plenty of searches that aren't being counted, something I'm checking with Hitwise about.

I've warned not to worry about month-to-month changes, yet I've shown them in the chart above in order to talk more about reasons why you might not fret so much. As I've covered, two ratings services have said Google dropped in July in differing amounts. Now here's a third saying it grew. Decision? You might split the difference and assume the truth is somewhere in between. It might not be comScore's one point plunge. It might not be Hitwise's half-point rise. It might be closer this time to what NetRatings was showing, a very slight decline or perhaps no gain.

Let's pull the trend chart from my Hitwise page, then we'll talk month-to-month stuff more:

In my article yesterday, I talked about being worried mainly if I saw a particular search engine plunge through particular "bands" on a chart, say if MSN were to break out of the 10 to 15 percent band. From the Hitwise chart, things are pretty much status quo across the board.

Look at Yahoo back in May. It hit 22.0 percent, a decline from 22.2 percent in April 2006 and 22.3 percent the month before in March. Conclusion? Ring the alarm bells! But then it climbed the next two months. Now it's at the highest point in five months. But if you consider the entire period, it pretty much hasn't changed. Anyone looking at only month-to-month comparisons is probably ringing alarm bells needlessly or lighting cigars with $100 bills that they ought to be banking.

Google was looking to be a band buster, of course. It popped into the 60 to 65 percent range. Party time at the Plex? Early data I mentioned yesterday from Hitwise suggests that August 2006 will see Google back in the 55 to 60 percent band. If so, that's again more a status quo event than a trend to me, unless you're happy with status quo being a trend, and I am.

MSN's generally seeing drops from Hitwise, something the other services are also reflecting. On the back of all three of them, this is a case where the alarm bells feel far more warranted. It's mostly within its regular band, but it does seem likely it's going to plunge into a new, lower level.

It's also interesting that AOL is a far, far lower share than the other services. Hitwise gives it a 1 percent share for July 2006. NetRatings gives it a 11.8 percent share, while comScore a 5.9 percent share.

The most likely reason that Hitwise is so low is that it cannot see the searches that AOL users are doing, if they access AOL Search from within AOL, using AOLs own software and access lines. That's going to have an impact. As a result, it's difficult to trust the Hitwise figures much in the case of AOL -- though in my next part, I'll still explain how to tap into the rating services to measure a search engine's health, even if they all seem to disagree.


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